New Lamar HS to facilitate innovative approach to learning

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At Lamar High School, it’s not uncommon to see a massive crane hoisting steel columns and beams into the air as crews work to rebuild the school as part of the 2012 Bond Program.

The $122.9 million project began vertical construction last November with the installation of the new building’s first upright column. Steel installation has been underway since then, recently reaching as high as the third floor of the building’s north wing.

While crews construct the physical structure, Lamar Principal James McSwain is working with educators to ensure furniture and interior features of the new building enhance the school’s innovative new teaching methods.

“We’re not just doing what we’ve always done,” McSwain said. “We’ve changed our approach, and we designed the new building to do a much better job supporting this concept.”

Rather than traditional classrooms, the new school will feature four large flexible academic areas to facilitate the school’s interdisciplinary and project-based approach to educating students. Each area will be divided into self-contained “neighborhoods” of about 200 or fewer students and taught by a team of interdisciplinary teachers who will have the flexibility to set their own daily schedule.

The neighborhoods will be housed in a new, four-story academic building that also features a large covered transit center for bus and parent drop-off, a black box theater and band instruction area, a large banquet and food preparation space for the school’s culinary program, and other career and technical education spaces.

The existing main building with the well-known art deco facade facing Westheimer Road will to continue to serve as the main entrance to the school. It will house the existing auditorium, an alumni center, a child-care facility for faculty and staff, and a performing arts area.

Construction progress can be viewed in real time via a webcam installed at the site.

McSwain said each “neighborhood” in the academic wing will be self-sufficient and run on its own timeline, noting that food such as apples, bananas, or other snacks will be available for students to eat whenever they like.

“There won’t be bells to end classes or go to lunch,” McSwain said. “Students will eat lunch in their neighborhood, and food will be available for them whenever they want or need it throughout the day.”

He noted that school committees are currently researching furniture options that maximize function and flexibility and reviewing neighborhood floorplans and technology needs.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things coming in our new building,” McSwain said.

The addition is expected to be complete and open to students in time for the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Additional site work, including demolition of some existing structures and installation of athletics fields, will follow.

Lamar is among 40 schools, including 29 high schools, across the district being renovated or rebuilt as part of the district’s voter-approved 2012 Bond Program. Half of the all projects in the 2012 Bond Program are already complete and open to students. Once all projects are finished, HISD will boast one of the most modern portfolios of urban high schools in the nation.

Follow @Build_HISD on Twitter for the latest updates on the 2012 Bond Program and school construction across the district.